Amidst the colossal war cry generated by the two giants SpaceX and Blue Origin, both competing to be the pioneer of commercial space travel, a decade-old question resurfaces- Is all of these a massive waste of our money and resources?
At some point of time in our life, all of us have looked at the night sky and wondered- are we really alone? Isn’t there at least one planet other than our Earth that can nurture lifeforms? The question itself might be challenging to answer, given the limitation in science. But there is another question that is always lurking just beneath- why do we need to go to space? Now that several big corporations have jumped on the bandwagon and are cashing out billions of dollars to offer space travel, the question quickly became a hot topic again.
One organization that was bombarded with the question time and again is none other than NASA. The budget of NASA for the 2020 financial year was roughly 22.6 billion dollars, and since the foundation of the organization, the USA has spent nearly US$650 billion on NASA. Not only NASA, but space agencies across the planet also spend millions of dollars each year in research to explore the vast unknown of space. While the Science behind this astronomical effort is amazing, many argue that we should focus on the subjects causing real-life problems. Instead of searching for another earth, we should allocate those resources to make the Earth that we know a better place. Climate change, pollution, poverty, and diseases without a cure- our plates are full of grave issues that desperately need to be resolved, and we should pay more attention to them. Even the staunchest supporter of space exploration can not rule these concerns out. But is space exploration that worthless? Let’s find out.
The galaxy is called The Milky Way and is home to billions of stars. Most, if not all, of these stars have exoplanets (planets that orbit a star outside the solar system). To put into perspective, if the stars are shared amongst the people on the Earth, all of us will be 50 planets rich. Yet, we are unable to find a single world with an environment favorable to sustain a life form.
But space exploration is not only limited to finding an inhabitable planet. Scientists figure that there exists a universal design, a sort of mother formula that governs our world. And Deep Space is the field to test our hypotheses and theories. We do not know so much about the universe, and even the mere effort to seek out answers can open Pandora’s box of knowledge. Research conducted in the International Space Station is crucial, as it can provide insights on many topics that would not have been possible on Earth. We can see This behemoth of scientific research propels some of the greatest inventions. CMOS sensor, an integral part of the cameras that we use today, was first invented by Jet Propulsion Laboratory in NASA. We have to thank the space agency for the inventions such as Memory foam (also known as Temper foam) and freeze-dried fruits.
But the story does not end in spinoff inventions. Scientists argue that the most essential part of human life, Survival, depends on the success of space exploration. Reason: Asteroids. Asteroids are big chunks of rock and other materials that roam around in space. These seemingly innocuous objects pose a significant threat to our civilization. Asteroids come in different sizes and shapes, ranging from 600 miles to 2 meters in diameter. But the devastation they might cause is mind boggling and planet Earth has already experienced it. The extinction of the dinosaurs is often attributed to a giant asteroid impact. Space colonization can play the role of insurance against the dangers of asteroids.
At first, asteroids might seem a bit out-of-the-world problem, but Mother Earth has its own set of home-grown threats. Natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunami, can obliterate cities in a minute. Even the highly localized ones, such as volcanoes, and landslides can set a chain of events leading to a domino effect of disasters. Science is not yet equipped to accurately predict, let alone prevent, most of these hazards. Hence it is inconceivable that we leave our Survival hanging to a big chance factor. NASA has aimed to build a colony on Mars by 2030, and it would be safe to say that in the event of a calamity, natural or extra-terrestrial, we would have an opportunity to save humanity.
Commercial space flights take up much space in the news headlines these days and certainly is the center of the populist attraction reserved for the space industry. But we need to acknowledge- the process itself holds much greater importance than just providing rich people a two-way trip of their lifetime. It is about invention, discovery, curiosity, and knowledge- the four cornerstones science is built upon. We must pursue exploration regardless of money-oriented motives, as someday the study might reveal the key to our existence.